Headhunting firms bank on bespoke executive placements to stay competitive


Financial Post | June 28, 2016

The Financial Post article, “Headhunting firms bank on bespoke executive placements to stay competitive,” quotes Russell Reynolds Associates’ consultant Brigitte Simard and CEO Clarke Murphy. They share their insights about the growth and new strategies in the executive search industry. The article is excerpted below.  ​​

MONTREAL — Since taking a senior executive role with Sun Life Financial in Montreal six years ago, Isabelle Hudon has led the company to triple the sales of wealth products in the province of Quebec and doubled its protection product sales.

Not bad for someone without any previous experience in finance or insurance.

Many employers wouldn’t have even considered someone from outside the financial industry for such a job, however, executive headhunter Brigitte Simard saw it differently.

“We were not looking for an expert in financial services,” Simard said. “We were looking for a great leader who would be able to transform that business.”

As LinkedIn gives employers access to a nearly inexhaustible number of resumés, unconventional, yet ultimately successful placements like Hudon’s are one way executive headhunting firms say they add value in an increasingly competitive industry that’s facing major disruption.

Even with the rise of technology, headhunting firms say there’s still a need for boots on the ground. Simard is a case in point. She was recently headhunted from Spencer Stuart executive search firm to run Russell Reynolds executive firm’s new office in Montreal.

“We need to be on the ground and it’s not just to work in Montreal, but also for a number of Quebec companies that are doing work in Europe, Asia and Latin America,” said Russell Reynolds CEO Clarke Murphy, who is based in New York. The company has 46 offices around the world.

Those in the industry say headhunting has been slow to change in the 70 or so years it’s been around, but as more companies have started using LinkedIn and building their own in-house recruitment departments, much external search work has become obsolete at the mid-level.



Regional specialists

Although the search for the best in class is becoming more and more global, having local staff familiar with a region’s unique needs can be a specialization itself.

And Quebec has a unique set of challenges when it comes to recruiting. The most obvious point is a potential language barrier for executives who don’t speak both English and French, though Russell Reynolds’ Murphy says he believes at the executive level speaking at least two languages has become “de rigueur.”

However, because of an increased global demand it can also be hard to keep the best executives around. 

“The biggest change in our industry and for our firm is that we’re as much in retention business in the past six to eight years as we are in the recruiting business,” said Murphy.

At the same time, he said the fact that a potential hire is already employed doesn’t stop his firm from going after them.

“We look for the talent and the competencies needed first, and then figure out who are the best people are — never who’s available but who’s best suited to achieve that strategy and what’s required to achieve it,” Murphy said.

Sun Life’s Hudon says she was so satisfied with Simard’s work that she has kept her as a special advisor to help find other — sometimes unconventional — candidates for the company.

“What we do is a combination of art and science, but it’s also about understanding the businesses and in what environment they are evolving,” said Simard. 

To read the full article, click here.

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Headhunting firms bank on bespoke executive placements to stay competitive